Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Impacts of Technology Advancements on Transportation Management Center Operations

Chapter 6 – Summary and Conclusions

Chapter 6 highlights key concepts from the report and presents the resulting conclusions. It also presents a checklist of next steps for TMC managers on how to start using the report contents to affect the changes that will support their TMC operations.

6.1 Summary

Through preparing a literature review and consulting with experts, big picture influences were identified which, when coupled with ITS technologies and technological trends, created a basis for targeting top trends. The big picture influences were in three areas:

  • Societal and technological trends – including rapid expansion of mobile communications, social media, computing, and automation tools;
  • Funding opportunities – including tightening of governmental budgets, growing interest in pricing/tolling, and increasing requirements for performance monitoring and management; and
  • Vehicle-based systems – including emerging connected vehicle technologies, developing autonomous vehicle technologies, and planning for integrated mobile devices and voice-activated technologies to mitigate distracted driving.

The ITS technologies and technological trends relevant to TMC operations were in the areas of data/communications, connected vehicle, agency processes, control technologies, and traveler information.

Eight top trends and issues of TMC operations were selected as the focus of the project. The selections were based on many factors including the big picture influences, the ITS influences, the magnitude of possible impacts, the frequency of citation in literature and by TMC operators, and the likelihood that the issue would be widely influential to TMCs within the project’s 10-year horizon. The trends fall into two broad categories. The first is those predominantly developing in TMC operations from within the transportation community. The second is those trends emerging outside transportation that have aspects which TMCs can leverage. The trends are shown in Figure 14.

Figure 14: Top Trends and Issues of TMC Operations

Graphic - A chart with the top trends and issues of Transportation Management Center operations. Emerging from within the transportation community is on the left, and Trends and technologies that Transportation Management Centers can adapt and take advantage of from outside the transportation community is on the right.
(Source: Parsons Brinckerhoff)

Brief descriptions of each trend are as follows:

Trends Emerging from within the Transportation Community

  • The Nimble Service-Oriented Program Mindset and Organizational Structure trend represented the framework of being positioned to successfully select and rapidly adopt changing technologies and processes to address growing and changing expectations from travelers for efficiency and communication.
  • The core of the Active Transportation and Demand Management (ATDM) Concept and Toolkit trend is using a wide variety of the tools at one’s disposal to proactively make operations more efficient, including through staff and technology.
  • While TMC managers do not have authority to implement toll operations, the strong trend toward integrating pricing makes it important that TMC managers begin to consider Accommodating Toll and Other Pricing Operations in TMCs. The limited funding from traditional sources encourages obtaining revenue through tolling, including financing infrastructure expansion based on the expected toll revenue stream.
  • Performance Monitoring and Management is influenced by funding pressures as a result of reduced operating budgets along with the need for greater accountability. Increasing data collection and analysis can lead to improved operations, enhanced customer service, and documented effectiveness of TMC actions.

Trends that TMCs can Adapt and Take Advantage of from outside the Transportation Community

  • The Automation Tools trend includes new technologies that improve system management and cost-effectiveness thus resulting in greater productivity. Automation tools also improve the quality of decision support systems.
  • The growing trend of the Involvement of Third Parties in Data Collection, Data Analysis, and Provision of Traveler Information to meet the TMC’s needs for a variety of data types utilizes the data services that third-party vendors provide to manage traffic on their roadway network and deliver traveler information to the public.
  • The Mobile Communications and Wireless Networks trend highlights the advances in wireless technology that are giving agencies options when it comes to modernizing their field equipment and increasing their data coverage while not overloading the system.
  • The popular trend of using Social Media for Traveler Information and Crowdsourcing uses social networking tools to receive and distribute information among agencies, travelers, and third parties.

Several strategies are provided for addressing each trend. Descriptions include references to agencies with successful practices in the strategy as well as key reference documents were applicable.

A cross-listing of the trends with strategies to address them is provided in Table 2 in Section 4.3. Many of the strategies are applicable to more than one trend. The table provides a quick reference for looking up potential strategies to deal with a particular trend as well as considering how a particular strategy could be of assistance with several trends. The table also highlights strategy/trend pairs most likely to be feasible under limited budgets or to save on budget expenditures.

Adopting identified strategies as part of a program of progressive TMC operations over the coming decade is a major undertaking. Program-level implementation and integration tools help to establish a climate conducive to successful implementation, operations, and funding.

The tools for technological and internal processes that can typically be applied directly by the TMC manager are:

  • Technical Process Tools: Systems Engineering, Standards, Maintenance, Asset, and Configuration Management, Network Management Software, and TMC ITS Architecture;
  • Plans and Preparedness Tools: Regional ITS Architecture, Strategic Plan, System Plans, and Definition of Readiness; and
  • Staff Development Tools: Staff Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs), Operator Training Program, and Staff Communication.

The second set of tools is for coordination of TMC processes with the broader organizational context in order to increase support for the TMC’s programs, systems, and staff. They are:

  • Planning Tools: Business Plan, Regional Coordination and Implementation Efforts;
  • Visibility Tools: TMC Tours, Keeping the TMC Physically Connected with Other Agency Offices; and
  • Communication Tools: Communication Channels, Communicate Success, Distribute Performance Monitoring Results.

Implementing these tools builds a framework for successful deployments of the strategies that allow TMC operators to take advantage of trends and technology in fulfilling their missions.

6.2 TMC Manager Programmatic Checklist of Recommended Actions

These checklists are intended to help TMC managers get the most out of this report by recommending a process for recognizing trends and associated strategies that align with agency program goals and budgets while benefitting the transportation community as a whole.

Table 9 Recommended Actions Checklist for Selecting Strategies

❑ Use the Top Trends and Applicable Strategies table (Table 2) to identify trends that the TMC needs to prioritize

❑ Identify strategies for implementation under those trend headings

❑ Focus on strategies that will have the most benefit within limited operating budgets

❑ Think of agency constraints and how each strategy will create opportunities to move forward

❑ Consider the likelihood of the strategy meeting agency goals and objectives

❑ Compile supporting facts, reasoning, and justification for strategy implementation to present to decision-makers

❑ Devise a back-up plan if initial strategy selection is deemed infeasible by upper management

❑ Gather input from stakeholders on identifying strategies, including operators, maintenance and IT staff, traffic engineering, management, and others as appropriate

❑ Include selected strategies in TMC Business Plan

❑ Investigate funding mechanisms

Table 10 Recommended Actions Checklist for Staying Informed on Technological Advancement

❑ Allocate time to participate in industry webinars and other trainings that offer direct access to experts

❑ Allocate time to read newsletters, reports, journals, e-mails, and websites from top industry associations

❑ Focus on gaining a high-level understanding rather than delving into specifics

❑ Call upon colleagues, consultants, and vendors to clarify and/or share lessons learned

❑ Activate society memberships to get updates on current technologies and standards

❑ Reach out to ITS device sales representatives for a demonstration of new products or product features

Table 11 Recommended Actions Checklist within the Broader Organizational Context

❑ Be active in regional and national professional societies, user groups, associations, and governmental programs

❑ Share meeting minutes and notable highlights with other engineering staff

6.3 Conclusions

Successful practices in emerging technologies begin to show how TMC managers can harness technology to improve the effectiveness of their operations. As pressures mount, TMCs will need to implement suites of these technologies and processes to meet the needs within limited budgets. In order to make such changes, TMC managers need to develop the organizational structures and tools to deal with rapidly evolving technologies, processes, funding requirements, and customer service expectations.

Through a review of literature and consultation with experts, top trends and issues of TMC operations were identified and then corresponding strategies for addressing them were developed. The most profound trends are based on the proliferation of wireless communication, the rise of social media, and the involvement of third parties. Together, they create massive potentially two-way data and communication streams throughout the transportation network. New classes of real-time holistic data become available to TMC operations, often through third parties. As travelers access increasingly personalized and user-friendly information through their mobile device apps, their expectations for information provided by transportation agencies increases.

The implication is that the role of the TMC can begin to shift away from collecting limited data from agency-owned field equipment and distributing it one-way directly to consumers and traditional media outlets. It can shift toward leveraging third party data for increased variety and coverage while providing third parties with only the unique agency based information.

The major changes created by such technology trends may benefit from a multitude of strategies to address each of them. TMC managers should consider the strategies presented herein. Many of the strategies are applicable to more than one trend. A few examples of successful practices that agencies have implemented that address multiple trends, are:

  • The use of third-parties for custom developed Smartphone applications to improve agency processes on systems integration and enhance traveler information through a more comprehensive integration of weather, real-time data, and operational decisions;
  • A more prevalent social media presence that enables implementation of new ATDM technologies and the gathering of crowd-sourced data to boost performance management;
  • More efforts at inter-agency coordination, co-location, and collaboration across regions and state lines for dissemination of traveler information and the efficient exchange of data through the use of mobile apps, and teaming up for purchasing third-party data; and
  • The use of decision support systems for automating some TMC processes, additional support and guidance for special roadway traffic and weather circumstances, and to facilitate system integration with tolling and other pricing strategies.

A common theme of agencies that have demonstrated success with these strategies is that the TMC manager had the support he or she needed to make the underlying strategic and organizational changes. Strategic actions for each of the practices above dealt with an overall level of increased communication and collaboration within the agency and with other agencies to promote sharing of experiences, knowledge, and lessons learned. This formed a solid basis for interagency coordination and sharing of data. Successful TMC managers also shifted to a nimble service-oriented mindset that proactively sought to improve the transportation system.

Given the day-to-day pressures that TMC managers are inherently subject to, it is very helpful to commit to developing some specific tools, such as developing a TMC ITS Architecture, which will require a thoughtful examination of needs and opportunities. Developing these tools will help position the TMC managers to select and successfully implement technologies and strategies that fit their agencies goals and objectives. The tools geared toward coordinating within the broader organizational context will also facilitate the needed institutional support and funding.

The impacts of technology trends on the operation of individual TMCs depend on how well each TMC positions itself to seize the opportunities offered by technology trends rather than to be overwhelmed by it and the related rising expectations from funding agencies and travelers.